Leadership is a topic that has been discussed
and debated over the years. Generally, leadership appears to be continually evolving:
from the 1920s belief of ‘impressing the will of the leader on those led’ to believing
‘Leadership is an influence relationship between leaders and followers’ in the
1990s (Ciulla, 2004). However, these extremes are still debated.
There are numerous theories of leadership and its application; from
transformational/transactional to trait, and situational – to name a few. Different individuals conform to differing
theories leading to a broad approach to leadership (Ciulla, 2004). Within the
world of HR there is no exception. HR Managers should aspire to be good leaders,
as without these HR leaders, HR teams will be unable to produce the output they
do (Longenecker and Fink, 2015). This is further reinforced by Ziskin (2016),
who states ‘It is virtually impossible to invest
in and build capable leaders without first investing in and developing
ourselves as HR leaders’. Both of these
are important in contributing to businesses succeeding by providing
Leadership-Driven HR (Weiss, 2012). In this essay, I will be initially discussing
two theories generally: the Situational theory and the Trait Leadership theory,
before considering a professional skill that derives from leadership theories.
Finally, I will demonstrate how this skill can be developed through use of a section
of my skills portfolio.
Situational Leadership theory involves the
leader being able to adjust their skills output to match the current situation.
This demands leadership flexibility; the leader must be able to adjust their
armoury of styles to tackle the situation presented to them (Grint, 1997). Situational
leadership is widely known and has undergone refinement over the years
(Thompson and Vecchio, 2009). The second version of Situational Leadership
proposed by Blanchard (2007) works around the Leader-Follower relationship,
that becomes adjusted depending upon the four followers’ developmental levels.
The first of these levels is the ‘enthusiastic beginner’: an individual with high
levels of commitment, but low levels of competence. These individuals will
require a more direct style of leadership. Second comes the ‘disillusioned
learner’, who is low in commitment and competence. These individuals respond
best to coaching. The third is ‘capable but cautious’, somebody in this
category would have high competence but varying commitment levels. Those in
this group value a supportive style of leadership. Lastly is ‘Self-Reliant
achiever’, these individuals are highly competent and committed, particularly
suited to task delegation (Thompson and Vecchio, 2009).
This second version of Situational Leadership
looks at 4 different situations, it considers the individuals they lead, and as
such 4 different leadership styles that must be appropriately adjusted. It is
my opinion that a fallout from this is that the leader must have both a flexibility
to adjust dependent on what is presented, and also collated a wide range of
leadership skills. This requires a leader with a good understanding of oneself
in order to critically assess where their skills lack so that they may be able
to adjust to the desired style should the situation require.
However, it may be considered foolish to
solely concentrate on the leader alone in these situations and within the
theory as a whole. The Situational Leadership theory, as stated above, is reliant
upon follower development levels (Blanchard 2007), as such, the leaders enforcing
this theory should have good awareness and understanding of their followers.
Kellerman (2007), describes different types of followers and what these mean to
the leader, namely: isolates, bystanders, participants and activists. It is
possible to link these followers to the commitment levels used in Blanchard’s
(2007) Situational Leadership theory.
Within the British Army, there are many leadership
styles (Dunn, 2007), however, it is my opinion that one of two important
approaches taken is that of Situational Leadership. In my time as an Officer in
the British Army I have seen many Officers, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers
(NCOs) and Junior NCO’s, knowingly or unknowingly, utilise the Situational Leadership
theory. One of the reasons this works well is that soldiers and officers come
from varied backgrounds, presenting a multitude of situations and various
follower types. Ultimately, the British Army believes fully in mission command,
which means that orders are given with a mission outcome. How the individual
achieves that mission is up to them; a clear example of delegation, linking
directly to Blanchard’s (2007) description of followers. There is complete
trust in subordinates training and ability, and this is generally due to the
individuals in these positions being that of ‘self-reliant achiever’. When
soldiers first complete training they are likely to be an ‘enthusiastic
beginner’, where leadership is direct, and all moral orders are followed. As
the individuals develop, through experience and training, they evolve into
desired ‘self-reliant achievers’, a progression that is rewarded by promotion
into junior leaders. The ability to adapt leadership style in the British Army
is further required when we consider various roles. A unit can find itself in barracks
one day, but be deployed on peace operations, humanitarian missions or combat
operations the next. All of these require a wholly different leadership
deliverance approach. Situational Leadership is therefore ultimately a versatile
approach taken in order to tackle a range of tasks and individual levels within
the British Army.
Situational Leadership is used more widely in
organisations with case studies conducted by Blanchard on companies including the
non-exhaustive list of British Telecom, Adobe and WD40 (Spahr, 2015). Other
case studies include the banking sector in Norway (Thompson and Vecchio, 2009).
Although Situational Leadership theory is widely known and discussed, it seems
to receive criticism due to lack of empirical data from research that can
substantiate the theory (Northouse, 2007). Additionally, it has also come under fire for
issues with internal consistency, contradictions and continuity.
Trait Leadership Theory states that one can be
‘born a leader’, that traits you have bred into you decide whether you have the
ability to lead. In essence individuals either have ‘it’ or don’t. The follow
on from this would be that a leader is always a leader, irrespective of
circumstance (Grint, 1997). Trait assessment can be used as a measure of innate
leadership ability, these comprise physical features, personality and other
characteristics such as intelligence (Northouse, 2015). Northouse (2015) also critiques
the Trait Leadership theory; notably that due to the innate traits an
individual possesses, the leader in one situation will not be as effective when
faced with a different situation. This is in stark comparison to the
Situational Leadership Theory previously discussed. Another criticism lies in
the fact that there are numerous ‘Leadership Traits’ and limiting these can
prove to be difficult.
However, over the years the ‘Big five
personality factors’ have emerged after research was conducted by Judge et al.
(2002). These are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness;
with Extraversion being considered to have particular importance (Northouse,
2015). Trait Leadership Theory can be seen in its application today,
particularly during organizational selection processes. Graduate scheme
applications begin by an initial CV screening stage before moving on to ask the
candidate an extensive set of questions aimed at understanding traits such as personality,
leadership style, emotional strength and initiative.
Trait leadership is still fully utilized
within the British Army, particularly when it comes to selection, both
initially and for promotions. The Officer selection process consists of two
events, one that is three days long and the other four days. The tasks look at candidate
personality, aimed at identifying key traits. An advantage of holding
assessment over multiple days is that it increases chance of seeing an individual’s
‘true character’. Over the duration of selection, assessments may consist of mental
aptitude tests, planning exercises, presentations and command tasks. Each
assessment is aimed at recognizing particular traits: intelligence, reaction to
stress, communication and confidence skills as well as ability to motivate and
plan. Furthermore, fitness and medical health must be considered as with
insufficient fitness levels and poor medical condition, then the candidate is
not considered as suitable to lead as an Officer in the British Army. The
outcome of the first stage is a grading of 1 through 4, where 1 is given to
those with highest potential, and then the second stage is pass/fail. The
assessors are not judging whether the individuals are at a standard to lead a
platoon, but if they have the potential
to be trained. Outcome is subsequently based upon two contrasting situations;
you either have potential or you do not. This is further reinforced by the
grading of categories in the first stage of selection – where Category 4 grades
relate to failure to demonstrate standards necessary for Commission into the
Highlighted in the selection process is that
while you may or may not ‘have it’, admission depends solely upon whether there
is potential to develop into a leader given the traits an individual possesses.
A result of category 2 in the first stage does not mean it is the end of the
road for potential recruits, instead it gives a time delay before one may
attempt the second stage. Category 2 assignment may be given to improve fitness,
build on intellect or gain ‘life experience’. This has been more recently
exploited with an introduction of a new course at the Royal Military Academy
Sandhurst, the home of Army Officer Training in the UK. This course takes ‘Risk
Pass’ individuals from the second stage of Officer selection and develops their
leadership skills, working to improve the traits that are required to undertake
the full commissioning course. Prior to the introduction to this course,
individuals that fell under Category 2 would have failed, being unable to join
the British Army as a commissioned Officer.
It may be argued that basing selection on
individual traits is not wholly impartial, as it is privy to cognitive and
confirmatory bias where an assessor may have skewed views, or a place
irrational stress on certain traits. The Army aims to mitigate this by using
multiple assessors, one of which is with the syndicate throughout, but has no
prior information on anybody within the group, not even names, so everything
they learn is based on observations – effectively assessing ‘blind’. A second assessor
who has seen the candidate’s CVs and references monitors half of two groups.
The process ends with a board with multiple members who spend a lengthy amount
of time discussing findings. Starting with the most junior Officer presenting
his views, as to avoid pressure of conforming to higher ranked individuals’
Having considered various leadership styles,
how they work and the skillsets required within each, I believe that the
overall skill of ‘providing direction’ is worth my time to develop further.
Development of this area of my skill profile will provide immediate impact in
my current role but also allow for better professional positioning as I
transition further into a role of HR. Within the HR world, it is important to
be able to provide direction, particularly if we consider Ulrich’s (1997) model
of the four roles of HR; specifically, the roles of Strategic Partner and
Change Agent. By further developing ability to provide direction, I am able to position
myself where I may potentially work within one of these roles. It is important
to be able to give direction through multiple channels, i.e. not only to
subordinates but also by briefing ideas and plans to superiors and developing
direction with peers. The ability to plan further ahead, and scan the horizon
will allow for planning of events, targets or goals. Having a strong personal
understanding of the outlook should therefore lead to a better position where
one is able to successfully provide assistance and route to those that require.
This leads to something I consider to be a component skill within the ability
to ‘provide direction’, communication, encompassing both verbal and non-verbal
communication, with stress on non-verbal. More specifically, I have recently
identified that it is essential to communicate more often, particularly to
superiors. Having worked almost autonomously, due to the leadership style of a
previous Officer Commanding (OC), I had a long period of not having to provide
my direction and intentions. By providing regular updates to my OC, I will be
able to form a stronger working relationship, and have a stronger direction due
to this. Communication is important for providing the information and direction
to subordinates (Den Hartog et al, 2013). Indeed, ensuring that there is strong
communication of updates on policy, direction etc., will lead to a greater understanding
of why they are receiving task delegation or new directions. This is likely to
lead to a stronger leader-follower relationship and for mutual goals to align
to that of the task. (Bass, 1985).
When considering how to go about this
development, I had to develop a skills portfolio from the Personal Development
Plan. I have selected the relevant row, that looks at the communication skill,
and it is shown below in Table 1.
Which skill are you working on?
How have you practised this skill in the workplace?
How will you develop your proficiency in this skill in the
I am working on early and concise
communication, to superiors, peers and subordinates. One area I need to
particularly improve is when something isn’t going quite right, either
personal or work. Have introduced weekly ‘check-ins’ with the OC, discussing
last 7 days, and next days, and allows time to bring up any issues.
Looking back over the last few weeks of this change being introduced,
there is certainly positive gains. Particularly a development of mutual trust
and understanding, allowing for more efficient progress with work.
OC is appreciative of the suggestion of the weekly meetings, and
welcomes the openness it brings, we are now able to communicate about
everything more easily.
Ultimately, I would like to be in a position of comfort where I can
approach the people in positions about problems, both work and personal,
without having to have time set aside to always keep up to date.
Table 1. Skills Portfolio Extract.
In summary, this essay has touched upon two very
different leadership styles: both of which are used to varying extents in organisations
and within my own organisation, the British Army. Both the Situational
Leadership theory and Trait Leadership theory have advantages and disadvantages
as can be seen in their organisational application. As an individual, it is
more suitable to associate with a Situational style of leadership. This may be
due to my natural ‘traits’, but it is clear that through the training I have received,
I have developed the skills and abilities to be able to adjust my style depending
on the environment, the situation and the individuals concerned. On
consideration of my own skills using reflection-on-action (Schön, 1983) and further deliberation of
the two theories discussed above,
I have been able to identify personal skills which I believe can be improved. In
turn, I anticipate in the short term this will improve my leadership ability
thus and further guiding me to a position where I can achieve long term goals.
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